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Braves Graph of the Week: How Alex Gonzalez Works the Count

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As a follow-up to last week's graph about Jason Heyward, I bring you this lovely contrast: a similar graph for Alex Gonzalez (2010 season only). If you haven't seen the graph from last week, please go look at it first and read the explanation if needed.

The brief explanation of the top graphs (the heat maps) is that a larger region means Alex put more balls in play on that count, and redder means he slugged better on those balls in play (bluer is worse).

Gonzalez-count_medium

Click to embiggen further, if you desire. A brief run-down of what this graph says about Alex after the jump.

One of the great things about baseball is that when you do research, sometimes your assumptions are confirmed and sometimes you are surprised by what you find. I got a little of both making this graph. First off, the expected:

  • Alex put a LOT of balls in play on the first two pitches of an at-bat, about 20% more than the league average in fact.
  • As a direct consequence of that, Alex rarely put the ball in play when ahead in the count. Only 16% of his balls in play came when he was ahead in the count, compared to around 23% for the league as a whole.
  • And of course, he ended up with a slightly below-average number for his pitches per plate appearance.
  • Overall, Alex slugged very well... when he put the ball in play. His .550 SLG on BIP is about 10% better than the league average. Of course, he also struck out a lot, and those strikeouts are not included in this graph.

Now, a couple things that surprised me:

  • How well Gonzalez did when putting the ball in play on the first two pitches. While he only did about average on the first pitch (presumably because pitchers know he's a hacker and don't give him a lot of good pitches to start an at-bat), he absolutely KILLED the ball on the second pitch. 0-1 or 1-0, it didn't really matter; he slugged well more than .600 on both counts. If I were a pitcher, I would throw him something off the plate on the second pitch, too.
  • Additionally, I was surprised that Gonzalez didn't rank even lower in pitches per plate appearance. But In 2010, at least, he seemed to settle in after the first two pitches. In fact, once Gonzalez was two pitches into an at-bat, he saw an average of 2.60 more pitches in the at-bat; the league average was basically the same, 2.66 more P/PA. He still swung a lot, but he extended at-bats by fouling off a lot of pitches.
  • Fun fact: Jason Heyward's longest PA in 2010 was 9 pitches (done several times). Alex Gonzalez had four plate appearances that were longer than that: three with 10 pitches and one with 11. I never would have guessed.

For what it's worth, Gonzalez has seen 3.85 pitches per PA so far in 2011, a modest improvement. I wouldn't place any value in that (it's really early), but he does have as many 7-pitch at-bats as 1-pitch at-bats (2 each), which is encouraging. So far, 10 of his 27 PA have gone at least 5 pitches (37%; last year, it was 30%). Both his extra-base hits (a triple and a homer) have come on the 2nd pitch, which continues the trend from last year.

Heyward, by the way, is at 4.37 P/PA so far this year, even better than his 4.14 mark from last season. Nearly half of his PAs have gone 5 pitches or more (13/27, 48.1%). His homers have come on 2-0 and 2-1 counts.